Family members of the kidnapped students at a public meeting with the Borno State governor (Photo: REUTERS)
Two weeks ago, 234 schoolgirls in the remote northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok were kidnapped from their boarding school dorms in the middle of the night. About 30 of them escaped capture, but around 200 are still believed to be held in the country's Sambisa Forest, a stronghold of the radical extremist group Boko Haram, which is suspected to be behind the kidnapping.
The group, whose name translates to "Western education is forbidden," has targeted other schools in the area before, but as NPR reports, they have typically spared girls, instead ordering them to return home and marry.
The Nigerian government has vowed to find and rescue the students, although the Guardian reports that their families do not have high hopes for their safe return. The students were between 16 and 18 years old, and according to one who escaped, they were rounded up into trucks and driven off by armed men dressed as soldiers.
"We must do everything to ensure that these abducted children are retrieved and protected," Ekiti state Governor Kayode Fayemi told BBC following an emergency meeting held last week. "And the military assured us they're doing everything in order to achieve this objective."
Still, the government has been widely criticized for its slow response to the crisis. This Change.org petition is calling on the government to devote more resources to the search.
Despite the brazen scale of the abduction, it has received little international coverage until recently, according to Guardian columnist Anne Perkins, who contrasts the situation with the widespread media attention on the South Korean ferry tragedy:
Nigeria is complex and messy and unfamiliar. It is easy to feel that what happens there is not real in the way that what happens on camera in South Korea is real. Watching the images of the almost mad grief of the parents, ready to plunge into the water themselves to find their sons and daughters, is like an awful realisation of one's own worst imaginings.
There is no such vivid expression of suffering from Borno, only the grainy images sent on poor satellite links showing the familiar devastation of catastrophe that could come from any of countless news reports.
Boko Haram has been waging a campaign for years to establish Islamic law in Nigeria, and is particularly active in the country's northeast. Three states — Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, where the abduction took place — have been under emergency rule since May 2013.
To read a first-person account of one of the kidnapped students, see this article in The Guardian.
And for more background on Boko Haram and the insurgency in northern Nigeria, see this backgrounder from CNN.